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Mainstream, VOL LV No 29 New Delhi July 8, 2017

Modi’s Trump Card

Tuesday 11 July 2017, by Kuldip Nayar

Every statement or a visit by a foreign dignitary has to be related to our attitude on Pakistan. Even if there is no mention of Islamabad, we stretch the observation to the point where it is meant to be so. American Presidents have so far been hedging an open criticism of Pakistan because the US has been supplying arms to Islamabad. But for the first time, America has dropped ifs and buts to pull up Pakistan for abetting terrorism and giving shelter to the militants.

President Donald Trump in a joint statement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, following their first meeting at the White House, made terrorism the cornerstone of mutual cooperation between the two countries. The statement went beyond the usual American position; while criticising Pakistan it echoed Indian concerns regarding the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative.

President Trump, recalling his election cam-paign, said that he had pledged true friendship with India. “I pledged that if elected, India would have a true friend in the White House. And that is now exactly what you have, a true friend... I am thrilled to salute you, Prime Minister Modi, and the Indian people for all that you are accomplishing together. Your accom-plishments have been vast,” said Trump. The President also described Prime Minister Modi and himself as “world leaders in social media” and that “it has enabled them to directly hear from their citizens”.

In the past, India had friendly Presidents in John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama. But they did very little to help New Delhi in its strategic and development require-ments. They were obsessed with the thought that they should not in any way rub Pakistan on the wrong side. New Delhi never wanted them to do anything which would mean a tilt towards it.

But President Trump has departed from the past American policy. The resolve of the two countries to strengthen anti-terror cooperation has come as a big diplomatic win for New Delhi and a big blow for Islamabad which was trying to portray the Hizbul militants as “freedom fighters”.

In his individual remark, President Trump said: “The security partnership between the US and India is incredibly important. Both our nations have been struck by the evils of terrorism and we are both determined to destroy terrorist organisations and the radical ideology that drives them. We will destroy radical Islamic terrorism.”

The two leaders seem to have forged a lasting friendship; President Trump himself took Modi on a guided tour of the White House besides accepting the Indian Prime Minister’s invitation to send his daughter, Ivanka, to India for a meeting. All these augur well. On his part Modi, with President Trump standing beside him, declared that America was India’s primary partner for “its social and economic transformation”.

China is the first one to react. It has chided India for going to the American camp. And, as usual, America has boosted Pakistan to stay with Beijing. Islamabad has understandably stayed quiet. Although President Trump has hinted that the supply of arms to Pakistan might stop, the latter has not uttered a word. Probably, it is waiting for the outcome of the meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. That should take place sooner than later.

The Congress party has made no comment which would be construed as criticism of the Modi-Trump meeting. The American President’s criticism of Pakistan is to the liking of the party but it is cautiously awaiting the overall reaction in the country. The Congress, like other parties, is busy with the presidential election in India. However, the personal equation between Trump and Modi would not be to the liking of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

In the US State Department, the Congress does not have that kind of a priority which it had earlier. In the forthcoming presidential election in India, Modi looks like having an upper hand. Therefore, all American policies are being shaped presuming that the BJP would once again win the general election in 2019. The support that Modi has in the country at present indicates that the Opposition is no match for him. Were all non-BJP parties to come together and fight the next election, they might emerge as a formidable group.

The effort which Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is making gives some hope. Otherwise, the performance of the Opposition would be dismal. The demonetisation that the Modi Government introduced had some adverse effect on the people initially but it is slowly fading away. However, the GST, which is coming into force from July 1, could sting the government badly. With a lot of opposition in Parliament and a prolonged debate and discussion, the Bill was finally passed.

It looks as if someone must have briefed President Trump on these points. Otherwise, he would not have tilted towards the BJP as he did openly after his first meeting with Modi. The Prime Minister continued to woo the Indian diaspora and the CEOs from Apple, Amazon and Walmart to invest largely in the country. They are more inclined than ever before to do business with India. Probably, the State Depart-ment, too, encouraged them taking the cue from President Trump.

On his first meeting with the US President, Modi has played the Trump card cleverly. With his party, the BJP, already well entrenched in India and spreading its wings in the States outside the saffron influence, what Modi required was some foreign support. None could have been better than America’s, particularly at a time when China has openly sided with Pakistan and trumped up some incidents in the North-East to allege that India had occupied a part of the disputed territory.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com

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